"Strange Things Did Happen Here" Part 1/2

OFF: This here is my challenge post. Yes it's two parts. Discussion among the players in the absence of the hosts discovered that all of us were solid with two-part challenges being posted - especially since the character counter seems to be skewed. Without confirmation by the hosts as to whether or not this would be an issue, I made the decision to go forward because it was late Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning I was/am meant to drive a couple hours to see a medical specialist regarding surgery on my ankle and wouldn't have time to submit something. Anyway, we're using these posts to tell back story and get our characters well situated in their new societal roles in this new universe. I hope you all enjoy.

ON:

Time: Five Years since arrival in London. Winter, 1887.

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Far from the general hustle and bustle of lively old London town, country roads ambled and rolled, twisting away from cobblestone until nothing more than good, natural dirt lined the lanes as a reminder of a time far simpler. It was as if the great fields and forests had chosen to rebuke the insanity of heavy civilization and chose to remain pristine and untouched, refusing to be sullied by technology and the soot of heavy traffic. In some ways the lack of cobbling and care could be seen as foreboding - ice, afterall, was treacherous even in the city with constant motion and the use of saline to turn it to benign slush beneath one’s feet - but in many others the pristine white snowfall could simple be labeled as welcoming, and, perhaps, miraculous in a time when industry was beginning to reign supreme.

Some idiot in Germany had finally patented a gasoline powered automobile just the summer past, but the horse and carriage still seemed to rule the road - yes… Even in London. The methodical rocking of his carriage was a near constant reminder to Avakhon of just such a point, and he couldn’t help but to allow himself a grim chuckle at the expense of a newspaper article touting propaganda and a decree that Benz’s invention would revolutionize the world. It would seem there was a dreamer - and a sucker - born every minute - more so in Europe and America than back in his father’s native Burma - but dreamers and suckers none-the-less and he chose to ignore such folly… For now. The paper crinkled as he folded it and resettled himself on the bustled black leatherette bench, leaning to peer out of his window just in time to see the first glimmer of ice shining from his destination’s snow-capped roofline.

The manor, even in winter, was a beautiful work of art. Sophisticated in nature, the sprawling Queen Anne mansion had been built with both grandeur and simplicity in mind. Simplicity in the very way it worked with the park-like sprawl of its gardens and the rolling hills of its pastoral acreage rather than against them. Grandeur in that even though it worked with the environment, its dynamic turreted slate roof and delicately carved gingerbread fireze and frescos boasted the weather of the occupants within… The message was clear; only society’s elite were welcomed there. A stone wall - topped with scrolling wrought iron and adorned with lanterns - encapsulated the estate and kept would be demons and scoundrels away.

Demons and scoundrels like him.

It wasn’t all that long ago that he first came upon the manor as it basked in the midst of its snowfields. Fresh powder glistened in late afternoon sun, promising that the night would be cold and cloudless just as it did right then before the detective’s very eyes. The day had been far less lovely, emotionally at least, and he remembered the way he’d nearly told his driver to detour and find a way to the nearest tavern for the evening. Two years had passed since then, and this was the first time he’d allowed himself to return by such means. Avakhon’s eyes dropped to his hands for a moment as the horse and carriage turned up the lane and through opened heavy iron gates beckoning them through and bidding them welcome to the Vatterott Estate. There was nary a soul in sight until the horses slowed and the carriage eventually came to a stop in front of a set of stairs leading a short distance up a small hill to the home’s porch and front entrance.

As if by magic a finely dressed footman approached and opened the growler’s cushioned door. “Good afternoon, sir, and welcome. I’ll see to it that your driver and horses are well tended to.” He greeted with a pleasant smile, bowing with an arm held out n grand gesture towards the freshly shoveled and swept stairs. There’d be no chance of a guest slipping or falling on ice that day.

“Thank you.” Avakhon nodded to the boy as he stepped from his carriage and began the climb. It wasn’t long at all before the half-masked man stood in front of the tiger oak door and gazed upon the fine polished brass of the boar’s head firmly emblazoned upon it. A heavy ring hung from it’s petulant tusked mouth and with a moment’s hesitation he reached for and swung it, nearly shuddering at the heavy knocking it produced.

“Ah, yes, Mr. Khinsharri…” The butler - the same man from two years prior - met him with the same brand of distinct distaste neatly hidden behind his air of professionalism, “Lady Vatterott awaits your audience in the library.” He drawled as he took the roguishly tall Burmese-half-breed’s fur-lined coat and hat.

Avakhon in turn simply finished ridding his shoes of slush, offered the man his appreciation, and set off in search of the lady of the house. The layout of the mansion had long since been etched and inscribed into his memory. He could navigate it in the dead of night with nary a light and never touch a bit of furniture nor threaten a single priceless heirloom - a thought that brought a whisper of a smile to his lips as he opened the doors to the library.

From floor to ceiling books sat cradled on their precious mahogany shelves, their hard bound backs and carefully printed spines lent a faint scent of fine leather and paper to the air as they basked in the golden sun. The light itself was golden, sublime, beautiful as it fanned out through the fine panes belonging to two tall French doors and then dappled itself across the books, their cases, and the tufted flocked walls. Glittering, the wallpaper’s gilded arabesque came to life, dancing across the walls as if it were alive and animated, lending to the belief that the manor was enchanted, and maybe it was. All things within it seemed to boast of opulence and wealth, dripping in refinement to the point of nearly being gaudy… And then there was her.

The Countess of Northumberland, Lady Vaanaras Vatterott was, at first glance, a slight little thing standing not much taller than the average adolescent girl - but her lithe curves quickly erased any notion that she was a child. Her hair, rich and iridescent as a raven’s feathers, had been drawn up in a stately crown rolled and pinned about her head, exposing her abnormally shaped ears. Where lobes would normally round and hang, hers grew long and followed her jawline as one single bit of flesh. Where shells would normally round and attached to the skull no higher than the height of one’s brow, hers were long and pointed - almost fan-like.

What caught Avakhon’s attention most, however, was the way her startingly violet eyes seemed to glow even when the sun was at her back, as if illuminated by the smile that blossomed when she looked up at the sound of her name on his voice to find him standing there. Two years ago the greeting had not been nearly as warm; she’d once regarded him with cool intrigue up to and beyond the point where he’d informed her of her husband’s death.

Unlike every other widow he’d visited, she’d insisted upon standing even when he’d suggested she take a seat and he’d found no pleasure when he’d been forced to stand there with her, reciting new of the Earl’s demise. He’d expected her to faint, or cry, or otherwise crumble in front of him, but the beauty did nothing of the sort. She simply wound a long string of pearls about her fingers and shook her head, taking her leave of him only far enough away as the windowed doors and it was to the heavens she cast her eyes about the same time the first stars began to show their merry faces.

The sigh that left her lips when she’d finally come to terms with things was one filled with regret, but not for the death of her spouse. Regret, perhaps, of a life spent as nothing more than a token or bauble. He’d seen the ways her eyes glanced up at the mounted head of a magnificent red deer stag as she spoke, perhaps choosing to equate herself with the elaborate bits of finery and other assorted ‘trophies’ the Earl had hoarded within his hold. It was almost amusing that whoever had dispatched the man had sent her his ears and his greatest - though underwhelming in size - trophy of all; his manhood. The box had sat discarded on the corner of a magnificent desk, its receiver choosing to remain lit by the stars, offering only the barest of glimpses in his direction and a hand that gestured vaguely to the posh velvet seats in the room and had taken the time to explain herself, and their beginning, to him.

If anything, her honesty humbled him that evening. He’d expected to find a brainless twit, one that would fall to pieces and be shattered helplessly in the aftermath of her husband’s brutal passing. One that would be easily taken advantage of by the vultures and jackals waiting in the wings to take advantage of her position and money, wooing her only to try and fill the Earl’s shoes and spend the Earl’s money. Afterall, the gossip on the street was mainly about her looks and the heavy suggestion that she boasted nothing by way of a brain - and yet there she was… A woman of grace, intellect, and of biting wit. How Lord Tulde Vatterott, 3rd Earl of Northumberland had managed to acquire such a dulcet creature was a horrifying display of his predatory nature - but he himself wasn’t one of those aforementioned jackals waiting to home in on a lost, lonely, and feeble doe and she wasn’t about to fall prey ever again.

Recognizing just how precarious a position he’d stumbled upon, however, he practiced caution to say the least, “Lady Vaanaras… I am truly sorry to have offended your senses or if I’ve left you feeling that you have something to explain to me.” It was hard for him to choose words for what felt like the first time in his life. Never had he encountered such a reaction to a murder. It wasn’t that he suspected her - mainly because it couldn’t possibly have been her given her airtight alibi of being sequestered and made busy with holiday party preparations - but rather that he admired her resolve and perhaps felt for her situation. His head shook, “I swear to you that I will find who committed such a heinous act, but know that I do not suspect you."

Vaana held up a single slender hand, silencing him before he could continue, "I’m aware… But the truth needed to be told and you the first to hear as you are a seeker of justice.” It was then she turned from the darkening window and killed the distance between them in bold steps, “I know of your involvement with his business and his doings… You will pay me the same respects, Mr. Khinsharri. I may be a woman, but I am far from ignorant and far from exploitable. If you return here for any other reason but to inform me of the name of his murderer, it will be on your own accord and not out of pity or worry for my well being.”

And far from exploitable she had proven to be.

Avakhon hadn’t called upon her once to see how she had fared. Instead they had spent two years exploiting loopholes and denying the gossip hounds a single chance at discovering what had quickly blossomed into a tryst between minds and intellect. While he’d never once made an overture to defile her propriety and honor, he had fallen for her.

To him, in the comfortable privacy of their own time, Lady Vaanaras Vatterott, Countess of Northumberland simply became Vaana, a spirited and headstrong young woman who blessed the less fortunate and made sure her household servants wanted for nothing. A woman who would often surprise him with a new artifact or stories of people who traveled the stars and theories that such people had helped build Egypt’s great pyramids - theories that would have sooner seen her thrown in the asylum, but left them both filled with a certain breed of wonder and contentment he couldn’t quite explain.

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To be Continued in Part 2...

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